Europa Conference League semifinals: Quality quartet remain

A screen shows the logo of UEFA Europa Conference League during the group stage draw at Halic Congress Center in Istanbul, Turkey on August 27, 2021. (Photo by Sebnem Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
A screen shows the logo of UEFA Europa Conference League during the group stage draw at Halic Congress Center in Istanbul, Turkey on August 27, 2021. (Photo by Sebnem Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images) /
Leicester City fans arrive at the stadium prior to the UEFA Europa Conference League match between Leicester City and AS Roma at The King Power Stadium on April 28, 2022 in Leicester, England. (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)
Leicester City fans arrive at the stadium prior to the UEFA Europa Conference League match between Leicester City and AS Roma at The King Power Stadium on April 28, 2022 in Leicester, England. (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images) /

The chase to reach the Europa Conference League final heats up

And then there were four. This season’s inaugural UEFA Europa Conference League is now at its semifinal stage, with four matches determining which two teams will make the trip to Tirana in May. AS Roma, Olympique Marseille, Feyenoord and Leicester City remain in what is a quality group of four teams.

Of the four , only Feyenoord was the team I did not expect to make it this far per my quarterfinal predictions.

Here is a breakdown of what is to come over the following two Thursdays, my prediction for the match-ups and some information on what the Europa Conference League winner gets (other than a shiny trophy).

Feyenoord vs Olympique Marseille

A battle between two clubs with tons of history in UEFA club competitions, Feyenoord and Marseille do battle in what promises to be an exciting pair of matches.

Winners of the European Cup and UEFA Cup, Feyenoord is no stranger to European nights like these. While it has been two decades since the Rotterdam-based club graced a European semifinal, they will be ready for the challenge Marseille presents.

Their European season commenced in mid-July in the Conference League’s second qualifying round. Defeats of Drita, Luzern and Elfsborg got Arne Slot’s men into the group stage, in what was considered by many to be the group of death. Nevertheless, they finished top of their group, going unbeaten against Slavia Praha, Union Berlin and Maccabi Haifa. In the round of 16, they ousted Partizan Belgrade before facing Slavia for a second time a round later. An enticing 3-3 draw in Rotterdam led to a 3-1 success away, bringing them to this semifinal.

Feyenoord find themselves in third place in the Eredivisie with four games remaining. With the cup winners PSV ahead of them, De Stadionclub occupy the Europa League playoff place. It is unlikely they will finish higher than third, but with Twente three points adrift and AZ Alkmaar a further three points behind, Slot’s side can seldom rest on their laurels over the final four games. A trip to relegation threatened Fortuna Sittard sandwiches the semifinal matches for Feyenoord.

Goalkeeper Justin Bijlow and midfielder Jens Toornstra will not take part in the two legs through injury while Alireza Jahanbakhsh and Guus Til are question marks as they recover from injury. There are no suspensions for the Dutch side.

The first ever winners of the UEFA Champions League, Marseille is back in a European semifinal for the first time since the 2017/18 season, where they went on to lose the Europa League final to Atletico Madrid.

The fall portion of the European campaign did not go well for the French side. Drawn in a Europa League group with Galatasaray, Lazio, and Lokomotiv Moskva, things did not go to plan for Jorge Sampaoli’s men. Their only victory of the group matches came on the last matchday against Lokomotiv, allowing them to finish third. Dropping to the Conference League as a result,
Les Phocéens got the better of Qarabag, FC Basel and most recently, PAOK to make their return to a European semifinal.

A recent defeat in Le Classique to champions PSG is the only setback in Marseille’s last 11 games across all competitions, winning the other 10. That has seen them rise to second place in Ligue 1 with four games to play. With Rennes and Monaco both six points behind, Champions League football is not yet assured for Marseille, who face Olympique Lyon in a riveting match over the weekend.

Only Leonardo Balerdi and Konrad de la Fuente, both through injury, are unavailable for the semifinal matches for Marseille, with no suspensions to note.

This is a very tough tie to call. Both sides have shown great strength of late, and an argument could be made for either side to reach the final. Both have to put serious focus on their domestic assignments as well, so that could play a role. With that said, I give Marseille the edge, given their incredible recent form which just might make the difference in this case.

Leicester City vs AS Roma

Making their furthest ever run in a UEFA club competition, Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester face Jose Mourinho’s AS Roma for a place in the Tirana showpiece.

In what is just their sixth ever European campaign, Leicester are by far the most inexperienced team left. Put in a group with Napoli, Spartak Moskva and Legia Warsaw, the Foxes fell on matchday six to the Italian side, dropping to the Conference League. From there, it was defeats of Randers, Rennes and PSV en route to their maiden semifinal appearance.

From a domestic standpoint, things have gone far from pleasant for Leicester, who find themselves 10 points from the European places in the Premier League, albeit with two games in hand. Winless in their three league matches since ending PSV’s European journey, there is a sense that a Europa Conference League title will be required for the Foxes to return to continental football next season. A trip to the capital will come for Leicester on the weekend as they face a Spurs side hoping to return to the Champions League.

Ryan Bertrand and Wilfred Ndidi are the only players missing out for Leicester, with no suspensions to note.

A Roma side that has finally started to find consistency at the right point of the season come into this one with more than enough reason to be confident. Defeating Trabzonspor in the playoff round of this competition, their group saw Mourinho’s side face Zorya Luhansk, CSKA-Sofia and Bodø/Glimt. Despite a 6-1 thrashing to the Norwegian champions, Roma still managed to finish top of their group with 13 points. After ending Vitesse’s European run, another meeting with Bodø ensued. This time the Giallorossi were not to be denied, overturning a first leg deficit with a convincing 4-0 win to move on at the expense of the Norwegians.

Roma started off the Serie A campaign in dire straits, dropping out of the European places at one point. However, a run of 12 games without defeat saw them go all the way up to fifth place, leaving them poised for the Europa League next season. The unbeaten run came to an end at Inter last weekend, but they should not have reason to be nervous heading into this one. A meeting with Bologna will occur between the meetings with Leicester.

Brian Cristante is the only doubt for Jose Mourinho, who can count on everyone else in his squad for the two ties.

Pressure is on both coaches to make up for what would be considered an underwhelming season. Leicester still have a lot of football to be played with six league matches still to go, which gives Roma a slight edge there. The Giallorossi, meanwhile, are trying to maintain a European place via Serie A. I give the Italian side the slightest edge for that reason. With less games left on their plate, I feel that is what will make the difference.

It is worth noting that UEFA Europa Conference League winner earns a place in the Europa League group stage the following season. That can change depending on how domestic performances go.

If the Conference League winner qualifies for either the Champions League (qualifying or group phase) or the Europa League group stage (still a possibility for Roma and Marseille), then the vacated Europa League place will be given to the Dutch Cup winner (or third place team, as explained earlier).

If the Conference League winner qualifies for this competition’s qualifying rounds next season (still a possibility for all teams remaining), then changes will be made to the qualifying rounds next summer, with domestic cup winners from lesser known countries receiving byes. In this scenario and the one above it, the team’s European place made available via the domestic league would not be passed down to a team or teams below them. For example, if Roma win the Conference League and make the Europa League via the Serie A, the Europa League place via Serie A will not be given to another team in the league.

Finally, if the inaugural winner of this tournament does not qualify for Europe via domestic performance (most applicable towards Leicester and even Roma), the team in question will still get the Europa League group stage berth, giving their country an extra team in Europe (in England and Italy’s case, that would total to eight teams, France would become seven, The Netherlands six).

Next. Europa League semifinals: British and German sides remain. dark

The action takes place at 21:00 for both matches of both legs over the next two Thursdays. Much is still on the line in what has been an exciting way to start the UEFA Europa Conference League era.